Has anyone noticed a certain level of irony in the Tories’ branding of Stephen Harper? On one hand, he is being marketed as a strong leader – able to handle economic recession, war, and other crises. On the other, he is said to have led – in his own words – one of the most “dysfunctional” governments in recent memory. In this sense, Harper is simply not built for leading a minority Parliament. (Opponents, observers, his advisors, and likely the Prime Minister, himself, would admit that his forceful style is more conducive to majority-governance.) Why, then, are voters being told to expect another minority parliament, yet entrust Harper to lead it?
I offer the question, not as a slight to the Prime Minister, but as a question of strategy. And the query applies to the opposition parties, as well. Why are Harper’s opponents not marketing themselves as moderate, conciliatory leaders in their own right? (We’ve seen limited evidence of this, thus far.) If minority governments are, indeed, Canada’s “new normal,” wouldn’t it make sense to brand your leader as a “uniter,” not a “divider”? If a divided House is almost certain after next month’s vote, couldn’t Canadians be sold on a leader who promises to reach across party lines to deliver a functional, progressive, stable government?
And yet, by all accounts and from all perspectives, this stands to be one of the most partisan elections in recent memory. The Conservatives charge the opposition with obstructing government, while the Liberals and New Democrats will turn the campaign into a referendum on Harper’s leadership.
I don’t mean to suggest that Canadians need a big ‘group hug’. I enjoy and see the value in partisan politics as much as anyone. But from a purely strategic perspective, the party that cultivates a “uniter” image for its leader may enjoy greater success in Canada’s new minority environment.